Review: Jekyll and Hyde (Bard in the Botanics)
Director Jennifer Dick has gotten too big for her botanicals
Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde has a legend and an influence that far exceeds its status as a novella. It’s a monstrous tale crammed into relatively few pages, and likewise Bard in the Botanics’ production, directed by Jennifer Dick, stuffs the story into the slight space of the Kibble Palace. And perhaps part of the appeal of an adaptation like this is to trap the audience in a claustrophobic space with an intimidating villain, namely Adam Donaldson as Dr Jekyll and Sam Stopford as Mr Hyde. The trouble is, without tailoring that performance to that space, it can feel a little less like Bard in the Botanics, and a little too much like the London Dungeons.
Dick’s direction embraces the silliness of the text without pushing it into the realm of comedy. Stephanie McGregor plays Gabriel Utterson, a lawyer and wannabe-sleuth. She slinks around in a long dramatic coat, thunderstorms seem to follow her everywhere she goes, and when she is exhilarated instead of sipping her whisky she splashes it on her face and continues as though nothing happened. This is not to say that her performance is bad, but it takes a moment to realise why it feels off. The trouble is, Dick’s direction feels far too big for the space. All the elements (the performances, the soundscape, the script) are all working in harmony, but they are all playing for a much larger space than they are afforded.
Photo Credit: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan
The first half of the performance is characterised by suspense and suspicion, which would have been engrossing if it wasn’t building up to one of the most famous plot twists in the entire English canon. Although the build-up isn’t entertaining in itself, the performance does find its feet in the second half when the tone turns violent and accusatory. Donaldson is eminently watchable when he is allowed to play with concepts of good and evil, genius and egotist, the only pity is how long it takes to get there. Stopford is great fun as Hyde, but the contrast from the subtle tragedy of his performance as Hal in Henry IV a couple of weeks ago to his oversized eccentricity here is enough to give a returning audience whiplash.
But this is not to say that all performances must be subtle, nor is it to say that Dick’s adaptation is pure folly without any gravity or stakes. They have chosen a balance between being daft and deft that in many ways fits the legacy that Jekyll and Hyde has taken on. But just because it fits the legacy, that does not mean it fits the space. The cast give it their all and performs to the very back row – it is just a shame that the back row is far too close to appreciate it. Three stars.
Whispers from the Crowd: "I absolutely loved it" "I was so impressed with [McGregor's] performance" "I love the staging too"
Jekyll and Hyde will play at Bard in the Botanics until the 29th of July